"I'm skipping Thanksgiving this year," Lorie told me. "Thanksgiving used to be my favorite holiday, but after the terrorist attacks on September 11 and everything that has happened since then, my heart is so heavy that it just doesn't seem right to spend a day feasting. I'm living with a feeling of anxiety--not knowing what a terrorist may do next."
We all can understand her feelings. A day of thanksgiving just two months and eleven days after the terrorist attacks on America? It is understandable that that many ask, "Wouldn't a day of mourning be more appropriate?"
Mourning is appropriate; and yes, it is important that we experience the grief that helps us through these tough days as we mourn for all the losses we have been dealt. But our individual and collective angst is not a reason to skip this holiday. Rather it is the most compelling reason why we need to observe it.
In fact, through the ages days of thanksgiving have been declared in the worst of times. George Washington proclaimed a day of Thanksgiving in 1777 in the midst of the Revolutionary War. Due to the steady urging of a magazine editor named Sarah Josepha Hale, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the first national Thanksgiving Day in November 1863--a particularly tense time in our nation's history.
And we must remember it had not been a good year for the Pilgrims when they observed Thanksgiving in 1621. In less than a year scurvy, pneumonia, and a virulent strain of tuberculosis had cut down entire families. Over half of the 104 colonists had died. Of eighteen married women, only three survived. Yet the Pilgrims chose to focus on what they had rather than what they had lost, a good lesson for us to remember in this difficult year.
"Skip Thanksgiving?" Arlene asked incredulously. Then she went on to express what many are feeling. "This year, September 11 has made me more thankful than I ever have been in my life! Before I took life for granted. Now I'm grateful just to wake up every morning, I'm so thankful for my family and friends. I am continually finding joy in little things I never noticed before. Every day I have an attitude of gratitude and I'm glad Thanksgiving Day so I can express it more."
In the past psychologists, psychiatrists, and sociologists did the bulk of their research in the field of abnormal behavior. It has only been in the last decade that massive research has been done on "normal" people, especially in understanding that quality generally known as "well-being" or "happiness." It is an oversimplification of the vast literature, yet a quite accurate conclusion, to say that there is a general acceptance among researchers that happiness is a choice, and that even for the most confirmed pessimists, optimism can be a learned behavior.
Researchers have discovered that all happy people share one common attribute: the attitude of gratitude. It is impossible to be a joyful person unless a thankful spirit marks one's life. Gratefulness is foundational. It can also be demonstrated that cultivating gratitude leads to a feeling of well-being or happiness, and all the research agrees that thankfulness is a skill that can be easily learned.
It is important to note that an attitude of gratitude with its byproduct of joy is not dependant on outward circumstances. Once a person has the basic necessities of life, sociologists discovered there was no measurable difference between the happiness of the rich and the poor. When studies were made to see who were most likely to survive in difficult circumstances it was found that those who regularly discovered even the smallest things to be thankful for were the ones who were most able to endure. It follows that although it is always good to be thankful, it becomes imperative when life comes tumbling in. Gratitude holds us together even when we are falling apart.
"Gratitude is the most passionate transfomative force in the cosmos," observed Sarah Ban Breathnach. "When we offer thanks to God or to another human being, gratitude gifts us with renewal, reflection, reconnection. Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life. We discover the sacred in the ordinary and we realize that everyday is literally a gift."
An attitude of gratitude needs to be cultivated. We get better at it over time. I practice a simple, workable plan that thousands have found to be life changing. Every day friend wife joins me as we count our blessings. We keep a journal and write down at least five things for which we are thankful that day. Sometimes these are big, important events. Most often they are simple, garden-variety blessings. The discipline of recording them each day is important. As we go through the day we find ourselves looking for those positive things for which we can thankful. What a glorious way to face life. We have discovered the value of keeping several years of blessings in the same book. As we look back at the items we have written for that day in years past we are reminded of things we had forgotten--and are blessed all over again.
G. K. Chesterton caught the spirit when he wrote, "You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, and swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing, and grace before I dip the pen in ink."
"It is a good thing to give thanks..." The Bible